This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 1997, and reprinted in the May/June 2018 issue.
RCES Briefing Document 130/34/XW:
Life in the Wilds During the Early Years of the Collapse.
Aubaine - 1207/7 NE
This document has been pieced together from personal records discovered during the past few years’ operations in the Wilds. Whilst the sources were many and varied they have been synthesised here into the single story of life on a TL8+ world, as the Virus attacked, and as the world tried to survive.
In reading this account, particular attention should be paid to the changing norms for: energy, transportation, food and water supply, shelter, health, information, and currency. Assimilation of this information will help considerably in your dealings with both remnants and survivor groups, as well the people of the Wilds at large.
The focus here is on the survival of the on-world society. Those in space were unlikely to survive unless they could manage to land on a world which
(Editor’s note: Illustrative text, such as ‘eyewitness reports’, first-person accounts, and scene-setting, will be set as indented and italic.)
“I was drinking in Esta’s bar when there was this deafening noise. Explosion? Everybody made for the doors and windows, and a few blocks away we could see a column of smoke rising, An air-raft had crashed onto the roof of the Sallan building. I remember somebody screamed ‘look-out’ and I looked up and saw what must have been a Free Trader falling from the sky. We hit the floor and the noise that came was like the end of the world. The power failed as it hit and we were plunged into a long dark night.”
—Bradley Pasquale, Deckhand
“As I picked my way home through the rubble-strewn streets I still kept a weather eye out for falling craft or debris. The Metro-Net had ground to a halt, so everybody was on the streets. I’ve never seen them so full. Or so quiet. It’s odd—you’d have thought that the panic would have continued, but people were now far too frightened for that. I thought of the poor people trapped in the tube-train tunnels or on the monorails. From the top of Mulsi hill I could see a thousand fires, stretching out into the night, each making the point where some air-raft, plane or spaceship fell to earth. Occasionally I’d hear screams high above, as an air-raft performed an endless pirouette against the night sky. Who were the lucky ones? Once or twice a ground car rumbled passed me. I tried to hitch a ride, but the car was either sealed tight or else there were so many people hanging on that it was impossible to gain a handhold. Anyway their ride would end when the fuel cell ran dry. I wonder what was left in the gas station tanks?"
—Frootie Wendkosl, Reporter
In those first few days and weeks after a Virus attack, survival was all that mattered. The potential for death was generally directly related to the hostility of the environment, though ultimately the greatest loses often happened on the more benign but advanced worlds.
“It wasn’t long before looting was wide spread. As people realised we were in for the long haul they switched their attention from consumer goods to food. But since they only carried a day or so’s stock of food, that didn’t take long or provide much. Some shopkeepers tried to defend their premises, but most just took the best stuff for themselves and then headed out. With the Net down there was no way they’d get any money out of anybody anyhow. With the carnage here in the city it was a fair bet that even if the farms were still producing, which I doubted, that there wasn’t the transport to bring food in. So once we’d scavenged what we could we knew we’d have to start looking further afield. The initial problem, though, was how to cook the food. It must have taken us most of the first day to get a fire going; just finding flammable stuff was hard, and to work out how long to cook these things for. Man was I starving by the time the food was ready. But it wasn’t going to be the food running out that would make us move. It would be the water. We had about 10 bottles of the stuff from the S-Mart. When that was gone we would be saying ‘bye bye city’.”
—Sehold Foxboro, Student
“We were lucky. We lived on the ground floor of a small building. With no power the lifts were out, and stairs were a rarity, so thousands of people found themselves trapped at the wrong end of a dead lift shaft. Even worse off were those in the arcologies. I passed one on my way out of the city. A giant dark hulk, with no lifts, no heating, no air-conditioning and no lights. It smelt of death. The first few days were lived in darkness. Most people didn’t even have matches or lighters to light fires with. Most didn’t even know what they were except for a few hiking enthusiasts. Many people had battery or chemical lamps, but they only lasted a few days. The world was eerily dark and still.”
—Keerashii Shadirrii, Administrator
“Death was all around us in those first days. As the air-raft fell, so did the ambulances. A few ground cars were pressed into service but not enough to make a difference. And anyway, the hospital was as unusable as the mall or the starport. No power again. Instead we gathered around the community centres where there was at least usually some natural light, or at least a grass area that could be used. But even then we couldn’t deal with many of the trauma casualties. And as the hours turned to days the anesthetics ran out. But by then the patients weren’t suffering from traumas but from diseases I’d only ever read about—hepatitis, tetanus, typhoid. And with the Net down, the only way I was going to learn any more about them was by experimenting.”
—Jasmin Catraz, Doctor
“For a few days we still saw ground cars around as we headed out on our foraging trips. But they became rarer and their occupants more crazy as time went on. A local gang managed to get hold of a couple of cars and used them to chase people, firing as they went. It was getting so you could get killed out there. I guess somewhere there were service stations with stocks of gas, petrol, or hydrogen, but these must have been running out, especially with the looting or hoarding that must be happening. In the air it was a different story. It was only a couple of days before the skies became uncomfortably silent. I’d never seen a sky without an air-raft or a aircraft flitting across it. I once saw a air-raft sat by a dead charging point, I bet she’d have gone like a dream if anybody could have found some juice to put in her. Anyhow, whose ever piloted an air-raft with no city traffic control computer to guide you? The big craft were grounded for the same reasons I guess. In one fell swoop the radius of physical communication had been reduced from thousands of miles to little more than ten.”
—Dici Meithrin, Surveyor
“With the loss of the power net making access impossible and interiors dark, we decided to move outside. Many people joined us. We were lucky that we lived in Hiba’s temperate zone; I pitied those people in the polar south. I suppose we still expected power to be restored, and we still thought our hi-tech possessions important and so we didn’t go far, just out into the woods on the edge of the city. There was a nice river there, too. The police? Well, they and the City were mostly concentrating their efforts in finding accommodation and protecting and distributing food supplies, but without communications, and with the tide of lawlessness, they found it hard going. It was over those first few weeks that the citizen action groups got going and we began to work together, trading skills and knowledge. Even the medics came out to these makeshift camps, it being easier to move them here than to try and re-activate the hulk of metropolitan medicare. Communications? For the first few days communications was by word of mouth only. The police and Army were soon on patrol with bullhorns and loud-hailers, but they didn’t know much anyway, just appeals for order and calm. In the weeks that followed we got some small presses going, and so did the city, producing news-sheets, often from solar powered portable PCs.”
—Pugin Imbali, Electrician
As days became weeks, and weeks became months it soon became clear that Imperial huscarles weren’t going to come charging out of jump space to restore civilisation. People had to learn to make do with what their planet had to offer. And make do they did, or face certain collapse.
“After a month or so of futile attempts to get power stations and power grids going we started to turn our attention to alternate power sources. As with almost every development at this time the emphasis was on decentralisation. Even without access to info-banks most of us real engineers could get small scale mechanical wind or water power generators going, and a few could even get electricity out. Wood was a valuable commodity for fires. Oil and gas, if available, remained in store for a long time; without the distribution networks it was useless. Coal, though, was a different matter, and coal traders were soon a common sight, distributing the stockpiles, and even scavenging around the mine workings. For worlds without such organic energy sources I guess they’d have found it a frantic, and often futile, race against time to get solar or nuclear plants going, and cannibalising every combustible in the mean time. Anarchy or tribalism must have often been the end result.”
—Cud Veniste, Engineer
“A few people or organisations hoarded motor fuel, so ground cars were always to be found somewhere, but public transportation was practically nonexistent due to the lack of power sources. For most of us, transportation now meant walking or bicycling. Pack animals soon became a valuable commodity, and all sorts of beasts found themselves pressed into service. We were lucky to round up a couple of verings, which stood us in good stead for the next couple of years.”
—Tomas Reming, Analyst
“On the coast, we had it better than most, I suppose. Sailors of whatever tech level had always maintained the skills of sail and oar, so we were far better able to maintain our links to valuable skills and resources. The rivers, too, became vital routes. I hate to think what happened on dry worlds where they didn’t have the water of life.”
—Owner, SS Gerous Dawn
“With the collapse of transportation and distribution the supply of food and water to the city ground to a halt. Once the hyper-marts and malls had been looted and the stockpiles consumed, they all started heading out to the country and the farms. There they found that conditions were little better. Us hi-tech farms had been brought as much to our knees by the virus as much as any other facet of the high technology Imperium. With the initial arrival of the ‘mallies’, violence broke out, and briefly there were good opportunities for para-military farm protection teams. But soon it was obvious that a deal had to be struck. We had lost their robot workers but still had livestock and crops, the mallies had no food, but had musclepower. So over the course of a few months our farms became hives of human activity, as robotic processes were converted to manual ones, tools were improvised from cannibalised machinery, and as the seasons wore on the food processing methods were developed. And it was here on our farms that distributed power made its mark as we set up local water and wind mills, initially for mechanical power, but later for electricity. We were lucky though. We had an Agricultural world, and I’m sure such an idyllic transition to pastoral living would have been possible elsewhere. Those farms which relied heavily on an artificial environment, be it by weather control, genetics, chemicals or hot-housing had less chance or survival, and there agriculture was likely to collapse, and barbarism not far off.”
—Harrell Kelner, Farmer
“It took only a week or so for our arcology to become uninhabitable, and this was the final spur to drive us out into the country. Our survival was then dependent on the environment. But in seeking shelter outside we were keenly aware that on our advanced world shelter had already been partly replaced by weather control. In the Virus strike this control inevitably failed and opened the way for a host of natural disasters. I heard of a typhoon that wiped out Prea District, and Nollo City was struck by a huge tidal wave. As we joined the human river heading out of the city we swapped notes with our fellow travellers. A lucky few brought with them the knowledge of how to make clay or sand bricks, some could put a wooden hut together (if the wood was there). But all most of us could expect to do was to cannibalise existing building materials to build makeshift shanty towns around the fetid cities and agro-complexes. Our only heat and light would come from firewood.”
—Maometto Gasdia, Shopkeeper
“With the collapse we were faced with a whole host of diseases that we thought were extinct. Hepatitis, cholera, dysentery, the list was almost endless. With medical databases and genelabs lost, we, like most of the professions, were forced to fall back on our most basic training and even historical knowledge. For much of the first few years the emphasis was very much on primary health care rather than advanced anagathics. One of the sorriest episodes of the collapse was that of the deaths of people reliant on un-sustainable technology. The most striking cases were anagathics users, who found themselves suddenly ageing by years for every month that passed, many to certain death. I remember one woman…” [breaks down in tears]
—Koopman Starker, Paramedic
“As we left the city, we made a final trawl for any information that could be taken away and used. Some of the shanties were doing it, too. In retrospect, we took many inappropriate or inaccessible data archives, but at the time we just took anything we could carry. [RCES Note: It was often these that became the ‘holy relics’ of TEDs and other techno-cults]. Of most use were the paper books, generally the older the better, so museum looting was common, and little was left by the time we got there. We generally disseminated this and other information by word of mouth, although in a few enterprising places a hobbyist printer or a ‘crier’ could improve the information flow. It was a strange role for us, from defenders of information to suppliers of it.”
—Nicola LeFanu, City Policewoman
“At that time barter was very much the name of the game. As it became increasingly clear that recovery was a long way off, probably generations away, the old wealth and status hierarchies broke down. In their place rose new ones, founded on resource ownership (crops, vehicles, mills) or skills (weavers, farmers, engineers). These people found that they could trade their assets for whatever they wanted, and the necessities for survival could then trickle down from them to the rest of society.”
—Fritsch Verdale, Economics Lecturer
After a year or so the situation on most planets had stabilised. Those totally dependent on high technology for a livable environment had mostly died. On those blessed with more benign conditions the populations had generally redistributed themselves from the cities to the country. Urban had become agrarian. Once the business of survival had been sorted out people began to wonder about how they could do more than survive. Could they re-establish a thriving culture? Could they re-discover some of the lost technologies? Could they once again reach for the stars?
Whilst the local hydro or wind station could provide for local survival needs it was no good if industry on any large scale was to be attempted. With solar and nuclear power ruled out it was only on those planets with petrochemical resources that new high capacity stations could be contemplated. Local conditions decided whether old plants were re-opened or cannibalised to create lo-tech plants. For the old plants the big challenge was always the control system, either trying to resurrect the computers or convert it to manual operation. Numerous obstacles had to be surmounted to get even the simplest power plant and distribution system going again. Some worlds, through choice or necessity, shunned petrochemicals and developed large but relatively simple, hydro or wind plants, or branched out into wave or geothermal power. A decade after the collapse many worlds again had a power net, although usually it was far more limited in scope and suffered from the more than occasional brown out.
“It was like stepping back into a story book. For those first years human and animal powered vehicles dominated transport. Animal carts, rickshaws, handcarts; even bicycles were too complex for us then. But I suppose we were luckier than most. The world’s native life had left us bountiful supplies of fossil fuels. The coal was the easiest to extract, and soon huge mining camps were established and we got some steam driven transport going, both on wheel and track. We even toyed with things like alcohol and vegetable oils as options, but the processes were all either too complex or too poorly remembered. Keep it simple! Even today the sight of a steam powered tractor brings a lump to my throat. What we went through…”
—Isola Scalachi, Scientist
“Since farms have always had a long and steady history of technological development, and a reputation for self-reliance it was not too long before our farm technology began to recover. First we converted the old automatic equipment to simple sentient and animal tools, hoes, ploughs and the like. Luckily old Zilia still knew how to get a forge going. Then we improved on our designs the next winter, making more use of animal power. Then as the steam engines and tractors became available we developed into motorised and towed machinery. We stopped short of recovering the electronics and robotics. We’d learnt our lesson. It was a similar story on the water side. We put our trust in local springs and rivers, and even local filtration plants proved simple to develop.”
—Musen Chailly, Farmer
“With our survival more assured we could put more effort into building sturdier housing. Whilst up on Gehamme’s Farm they turned to basic brick manufacture we continued to used reclaimed material from the towns. It was from our foraging teams that the local towns regained their first returnees. The deciding point as to whether to stay on the farm or return to the town came when we decided it was easier to transport food and build local water supplies than to try and move ever increasing amounts of building supplies.”
—Gabrile Fero, Lawyer
“We sent those first explorative forays into the cities for information and just to find out ‘what had happened’. What we usually found were lawlessness and death. We even undertook long distance trips to re-establish contact with other communities, but we were more inquisitive than most. It seemed weird, how we’d gone from a global village to a real one almost overnight. Our social radius had shrunk from 10,000km to at best 20km. Now trying to push it back out to 200km seemed like the most daunting thing in the world. Needless to say, the re-expansion and the re-integration that followed brought with it its own problems. The old struggles for influence and supremacy were re-enacted. Key players in this were the guilds. In those dark years when skills had been everything, those people with the key skills had banded together, realising they could command a higher price if they didn’t undercut each other. Also they could make from training others, only a few others, the skills. Soon the guild encompassed not only the craftsmen themselves, but also their families and their households, the cooks, cleaners, labourers and others they needed to prosper. Guild halls became common sites, and impressive sites, in the farm shantys. Many people belonged to a guild and the guild provided for their every need. The guild obtained its ‘needs’ through a high level trade of its resources and expertise with other guilds. Mixed trade guilds, or communes, were also common. In such societies there ceased to be a need for money and ‘wealth’ meant the holdings of your guild and your position in it. As we pushed our boundaries beyond the confines of the local town and village the guilds were increasingly in conflict with each other, as they saw both challenges to their monopoly, and a threat to their very existence.”
—Carmin Uilan, Sociologist
[RCES Note: Some races found such arrangements easier to adapt to than others. For Aslan and Lancians who had always had strong clan or team motivations it was “alien” to withhold or exploit skills that were needed by the group. The close relationship between the surviving guilds and the Star Guild is also worthy of further study.]
“It must have been 10 or 15 years after the Death that we felt that we’d come through and that a new life had begun. Our old TL13 world seemed like a dream now. Our new world was so different, and in many ways far more satisfying. Yes, the work was hard, I still don’t think my hands have recovered, but it was a slower and more pastoral existence. You’d talk late into the evenings, or over a pint of Rmer at lunch time like you’d never have done before. The only sounds apart from birds and the wind was the occasional steam tractor, or the creaking of the watermill. You know it reminded me of nothing more than some old Terran novels I’d read, set in a place called, I think, Wesx. The only difference was that where they had the dark satanic mills of industrialisation lurking over the brough of the hill we had the deathly relics of our decayed cities. And there was always those marvellous anachronisms. I remember that Oki used to delight in building really small mechanical devices to mimic the electronics of the past. I’m sure he must have copied some of his designs though, like that punch card and silver disc’d videoscreen.”
—Pugli Indee, Teacher
Stranded in Space
Given these hard times it had been a relatively peaceful journey in from the jump point. We’d got a lot of routine stuff out of the way and just under an hour ago the good ship Ventsa docked at Crosof High. I was gazing out of the bridge viewport at the glistening lights of the space station when they went out; the lights, every one of them. As I gasped my surprise turned to fear as the lights of the Ventsa went out and we were plunged into darkness. Thankfully the red emergency lights came on, but the ship sounded ominously dead and I could feel my feet lifting from the floor. We were in zero-gee!
When the Virus arrives in system its attack on ships can be frighteningly swift. The players first concern is likely to be to recover the computer, for without it they cannot startup the main or standby power supplies. Although a hopeless task the players should be encouraged to try and led into the sense of desperation which is the hallmark of this scenario. Things are going to get bad! After a few minutes the players will see lifeboats being launched from the space station. The ship’s radio is out of action, but if a player thinks of using the suit radios they’ll find the channels awash with voices, some panicky, some cool. Everybody is in the same boat. The players should soon realise that if they stay put they’ll die and should therefore plan their escape to the world’s surface. The main options will be to use their own small craft/lifeboats/emergency shields or to EVA to the station or another ship and appropriate theirs. In both cases remember that the lack of almost all power and light in the whole of near space will make the task very difficult, with a need to jury rig manual overrides, and that there will be several thousand other people with the same idea. And even when the players get dirtside all is not likely to be over, especially if they made an uncontrolled descent into a remote part of the world…
The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgeene
We’d been enjoying a nice quiet drink to celebrate the end of a run when the vid-screens went blank. “Hey, where’s the vid?” came the shouts. The bartender looked perplexed but dutifully tugged at cables and pushed switches. Nothing. Dead. Our conversation strayed back to the run but was soon distracted again by a commotion at the bar. Some guy’s phone wouldn’t work, and another couple were having problems with a credit transfer. Then the lights went out. After the initials ‘oohs’ people started shouting at Forin to get her act together, others suggested she’d better pay those bills. ‘The lights. They’re out all over the city’ somebody shouted from the doorway. Then there was an almighty crash and the windows blew in….
Moving out from the bar the players will be met by a darkness that previously they’ve only met in deepest space. No lights, but panic there’s lots of. The crash was from an air-raft that now sits in the ruined remains of the building opposite. Up and down the street flickers of fire bear witness to similar happenings. For the players their choice will lay between heading back to the ship or to a more local refuge (friends, hotel, etc). Either way the journey will be adventurous, and encounters should be rolled regularly.
- Another craft crashing nearby and the players are asked for help to rescue a trapped person, or to assist with first aid. Maybe even one of the party is hit.
- The players run into a gang of looters who are taking advantage of the chaos.
- The players run into security forces who are blocking their way as part of a security cordon (especially if heading back to the port).
- The players encounter a dangerous animal/person who has escaped in the chaos.
- The players have trouble navigating in the darkened city with no Auto-guide to assist them.
- The players route is blocked because the automatic lift/gate/bridge/tube has failed.
If the players are heading anywhere other than their ship they’ll find their destination no better than the streets. The nugget will then either continue with their return to their ship, or follow on to the escaping from the city nugget. If heading for the port the players will almost certainly have trouble getting in. If this does not come from the port authority then it will almost certainly come from the hoards that rapidly gather seeking a passage off planet. When the players do get to their ship they’ll find it dead, like everything else. Manually blowing the hatch is the only way in, and once within it’s an eerie place. The players may camp out in the ship and await the return to ‘normality’. But it’s going to be a long wait….
After two days it was obvious that things weren’t going to get better. Our stocks of food were running low and it was mayhem still outside. The local foodstore had stopped selling stuff as soon as the net went down, and it was only yesterday it started bartering its stock. Then last night it was looted. There’s a foul stench in the air and a couple of ham operators we’ve been monitoring talk of lawlessness and death. The troops around here have kept the mobs away from the starport, but the body count is high and the troopers are getting uneasy. Their food’s running low and there’s no prospect of pay at the end of the month. Another radio op says that the best bet is to head out to the farms to the south of here, at least we’ll be close to the food and away from the smell of death.
Once the PCs decide to make a move they’ll need to strip their ship of everything they’ll need and can carry. If they have some non-grav personal transport it should still work, but refuelling may be a problem and it’ll also attract a lot of attention. Also anything rechargeable (like power armour!) could cause problems later. Once kitted out the PCs can head off. Encounters would be similar to the “Night the lights went out…” nugget but with the aggro stepped up a notch or two.
Additional encounters could include:
- A roadblock set up by a gang that's taken over a few city blocks.
- A roadblock set up by security forces trying to prevent people from entering and area/leaving the city.
- A pack of rabid animals
- Violent anarchists joy-riding a paramilitary patrol wagon and shooting everything in sight.
As the players move through the city they’ll find that they come across ribbons of people all heading out, carrying their belongings or using make-shift carts. The appearance of a powered vehicle or a pack animal is the cause of aggro or even riot. Gradually the ribbons merge and soon the main arterial routes are crammed with refugees. On the march out petty theft and stress-induced violence is common. The players will need to watch their backs as well as their possessions. They may also stand a chance to gain some kudos by helping fellow refugees with medicines or route-finding/making problems. For their own future it will be in the players interest to ingratiate themselves with the locals; off-worlders who ‘brought this plague’ are not very popular at the moment and the players could be the target of xenophobic attacks. Within the refugee band natural groupings and leaders will soon emerge and the players might ally themselves to one of these. After several days march (left to the referee) the players and their fellow travellers arrive at the Hedula Agro-combine.
Out of the Fire
It had been a rough descent but the re-entry packs got us all down safely and within a few tens of kilometres of one another. I unloaded my gear from the canister and then stuffed my pockets with rations and ammo. I pulled the pack and the canister to a convenient ditch and threw some brushwood over it. Finally I threw my pack on and headed up to the top of a nearby hill. I couldn’t see a soul. On the radio I heard the other guys checking in. We had problems working out who was where though because the planet’s NAVSAT system was out, but in the end our navigation skills won through and we chose an RV.
The players should be individually and randomly placed on a wilderness map. They should then make their own ways to the agreed RV. During this time roll for encounters for each player. Once they have met up at the RV the players should head on for civilisation. There are two options, a small town about 100km distant NW, or a worksite about 60 km distant to the SW. During the march to the site encounters should be rolled for as usual, but any ‘human’ encounters should use one of the following:
- One of more survivors from a similar drop from orbit from another ship.
- The crash site of a air-raft. All are dead.
- The crash site of an orbital shuttle. There are two survivors, one of whom has lost both legs, the other has a chest wound.
- A ‘madman’ screaming about the revenge of the Ancients
On arrival at either site the players will be appraised of the situation on the planet. Out in the sticks old fashioned radio is still keeping people informed. The reception will be slightly warmer at the work site, the townsfolk being more insular. At the worksite there’s local power but food supplies only have a week left, they are usually flown in monthly. If things don’t change the site leader is going to move on the town. They have a number of vehicles which they can charge locally. The players will only have the choice of moving on alone or joining in. At the town there is only sporadic power and little (most came in from outside), although most families have their own vegetable plots. There is very little independent transport. The town could survive alone in terms of food and shelter, but the extra bodies which arrive there over the coming weeks will put a definite strain on the situation. The PCs could try and make a living here, or alternatively try and build up support for a journey into the nearest large town (80 km away) using the transport. Villagers will be wary about this as one team has already left and is unheard from, and there have been stragglers coming in from near there with tales of chaos and lawlessness. The PCs could also make the journey on foot. If they do so they’ll find a smaller scale of the “Mall Fever” nugget, and will end up joining a similar exodus to a farm. If the players stay in the village then life will develop along similar lines to the farm based nuggets.
Down on the Farm
It had been another hard day, and by 2300 we were almost ready for bed. We’d been out since 0600, some of us riding gryhorse rounding up the cattle, others had been working in the fields harvesting the last of the Carravence crop. Schofi and I were playing cards, whilst Onybe mended a tear in her jacket. Then there was a commotion at the door and Cheno burst in. “We’re under attack, get your boots on and report to the armoury. We’ve got a farm to protect!”
As the farms grew in size, so rivalries too grew. Initially these would be verbal disputes, or at worst bar-room brawls. But soon rustling began, fences would be wrecked, crops damaged. Finally the war got hot, with lone workers being murdered, then out-stations, till eventually some farms established standing security forces, private armies, or hired one of the new bands of mercenaries.
In this adventure the attackers are the security force of the neighbouring Simonsto farm. Both the Simonsto and the players’ Blue Light farm cover about 300 square kilometres. Whilst Blue Light only has about 3000 people living in and around the farm, the Simonsto is almost twice that size and growing fast. It’s now feeling desperate for more land and stock. There’s been a long running dispute over the Redeshe Valley, and now in the early evening Simonsto have sent a combat team of 30 in to seize Blue Light’s station in the valley.
The Simonsto are equipped to a tech level above the local norm. They have two ground vehicles with them. They have taken the stations 15 homesteaders hostage, and are now digging in. Simonsto plans to send a workteam of 100 into the valley the next morning to erect new fences and to take full control of the valley.
The Blue Light will be able to muster a force of only 10 - 20, but can equip half of these to two tech levels above the local norm. The players can either be made squad leaders, or placed in a squad of their own and given a key task. Only animal transport is available, and the players should be able to reach the area of the homestead by midnight. Thereafter its all in the players hands…
Back to the City
It seemed so odd being surrounded once again by such huge man-made structures. On the farm we’d got used to more pastoral structures, and few were more than two stories high. Now all I could see was ruined metals, plastics, and composites. It had taken us 8 days ride to get to the city, but even a day or so out you could begin to sense the death. It had been almost 3 years since we’d left, but the ground was still littered with decayed bodies and skeletons. Most of us threw up. Our target was the old museum, and then the university. We figured they be the most likely places to have stuff of use, old books, tools, pictures. Anything we could learn from or use. We moved gingerly through the streets now. We hadn’t actually seen anyone yet, but you could just feel those mutant eyes watching you….
This nugget follows the players as they move though a ruined city, visiting the museum and university. The action should be followed on a real city map, but keep on emphasising the destruction and dereliction around. The following encounters should be used to spice up the trip, both inbound and outbound:
- Pack of rabid animals
- A crazed survivor armed with a simple firearm
- A lone sniper hiding some 6 floors up
- A survivor family without food but obviously diseased who pester the team for food and medicine. If the players make to get away the woman will throw down caltrops in front of a horse which will go lame.
- A search team from a Guild. Inter-personal skills should be played to decide whether this evolves into a ‘hot’ contact.
- The players make a minor discovery in deserted building along the route (e.g. food, a tool, a paper book, etc)
- An animal borne survivor gang attacks, carrying simple firearms and bows, and wearing jack armour. The gang should be half the size of the players party.
- A survivor encampment, with some 10 - 20 families. Again inter-personal skills should be played to see whether the survivors help and act as guides, ask the players to get lost, or pick a fight (either then or in ambush later).
- A lone survivor, really talkative will attempt to befriend the team and act as a guide. He’ll be hopeless, but will keep on going on about Dean, and how he’s afraid of Dean, and may also offer some gossip about the museum’s guardian.
At the museum a survivor family has made home. The elder is slightly mad, and considers herself the guardian of the muses. Her family are loyal and will help her stop the players getting in/around unless they can win her over. In the museum the players will find a selection of useful displays (which must be hand copied), and a few tools or examples of craft.
At the university the players will become aware that they are being watched. And as they move across the campus figures will be seen scurrying from bush to bush. Eventually the players will be ambushed by about twice their number. Sharp eyed players will also notice that amongst the simple firearms, bows, and pikes there are also personal energy weapons! The players will be taken to the Central Hall of the university where they'll have an audience with “The Dean”, a TED in the making. The Dean has secured the university as his power-base, and has looted it of any working technology, and most of the fancier looking non-working technology. He will be generally benign towards the players, saying that he too wants to ‘expand’ into the country some day, and that perhaps they’d like to swear allegiance now. As long as the players play it cool they should get away with their lives intact, even if not with much of their collected relics. If the players decide to get violent (either before or after meeting the Dean), then they can expect to be fighting a force totalling four times their size, of whom 40% have blades, 30% have bows, 20% have firearms and 10% have lasers. The Dean will attempt to defend his holy of holies, the old physics lab, at all costs. If the players defeat him and break in to the lab, they will find a fine array of artifacts although most are high-tech and useless. The TED and his tribe have vandalised most of the really useful material in the university.
The return to the Farm can be as eventful as the referee wants to make it. The success of the mission is largely dependent on the artifacts and knowledge brought back, and experience points should be dependent on this.
We’d been travelling for over month. We’d left behind us the farms and hamlets and had headed up into the mountains, hoping to get to Gusin. In the old days Gusin had been the technological centre of the world. Dozens of research centres, universities and leading edge companies laid out around the blue expanse of Lake Gusinoro. If there was anywhere were we’d find the information and perhaps even the people to help us rebuild our civilisation it would be there. Our expedition numbered some 50 fifty people, drawn from a selection of local farms. Even the guilds were pulling together on this one. The route was a tortuous 1000km across the Sima mountains. Who knows what we’d meet.
This adventure gives scope for a whole array of encounters, of both the wilderness and the ‘collapse’ variety. Most of the events described in previous nuggets could provide inspiration, but additional options include:
- Ambush by a guild force anxious to prevent any ‘recovery’
- A large survivor camp, short on food and possessions
- A TED in the making
- A large crashed spaceship or even a space station fragment
- A military unit gone ‘wild’
On arrival at Gusin the players will find that the death there was greater, the local climate not offering the farming opportunities on which survival depended. A few people make their living fishing the lake, but native marine life is poor. These fishermen will act as guides and the players can then explore the Gusin area. They will find though that there is almost less here than they found at home, the Virus recognised this as a key target and did a good job of destroying it. The players shouldn’t be allowed to go home empty handed though, and few valuable nuggets will be unearthed. Perhaps the best prize will be to persuade Obil Adil, an ex-scientist, to accompany them back. Obil has an excellent memory and had a keen interest in ‘archaic’ as well as contemporary technology, and would be a valuable boost to any recovery effort.
Like a Second Coming
It had been a hard day in the office. After almost a years work the recovery effort was beginning to take shape, with sustainable programs established on housing, health, communications, and transport. We’d got the telegraph lines working to Ceive and Semsfor, and the new steam engines were passing their tests with flying colours. In the hot-house the guys were even making progress on restoring the computer net we’d brought back from Selelchal. I looked up at the stars, and thought “one day we’ll return”. Then my eye was caught by a flash on the horizon, and then a huge spaceship came sweeping over the hill and across the fields. “My God! The stars have come to us!”
The arrival of RCES or even a free trader would be a traumatic event on a world. Whilst most Traveller literature explores such contacts from the RCES point of view it would be interesting to explore the same from a survivor point of view. At its most simple the arrival of such a technologically superior force is likely to split survivor groups between those who want to reclaim the stars and those who are now confirmed xenophobes. Both camps would in turn divide between those who a motivated by altruism, and those who have only self interest at heart. The players should represent one group and then through either persuasion or force try and win the other groups over. The adventure could use a ‘political influence’ points scheme as some other Traveller political adventures have done, or it could be a more limited shoot-’em-up. The guilds could be expected to be particularly xenophobic, although the timely rival of a Guild craft could lead to an interesting stand-off or possible civil war. Either way, the players will soon be reminiscing about the good old days when they only had their natural survival to worry about!
Virus Attack Vectors
As the Hivers now understand it the Virus crossed the immensities of interstellar space through the transponders of manned craft and the XBoat network. The latter would have been key in ensuring that the Virus arrived at the same time as news of itself at most major worlds. Subsidiary XBoat and packet boat feeds then brought the Virus to most lesser worlds. Amongst the last to be infected were those worlds which had little interstellar contact. Indeed it is likely that some of these will have totally escaped the Virus, interstellar travel collapsing before they could be infected. Obviously the discovery of these would be a valuable prize for the Coalition. One might expect a similar argument to hold for interdicted worlds, but the Hivers think it likely that the scout interdiction service vessels would have carried the Virus out to these, the Virus deliberately sending response and resupply ships out to them shortly after infection.
Arriving by XBoat, the system’s E-mail net provided the ideal vector for the Virus to spread through the planet’s systems. If arriving by transponder the Space Authority network supplied the conduit to each world in system, then through COACC networks and eventually into the local data networks. Since the Virus was originally an anti-ship system it found it easy to cripple a world, since electronically a world looked just like a giant distributed starship. Command and control systems generally went first (including a planet’s governmental and administrative systems), then weapon systems (the SDB network, planetary defenses, and military installations), then information centres (media, business, and academic centres), life support (medical and food production facilities), transportation nets, then almost simultaneously the power and communications networks. The Virus disabled each node with either a software kill (overwriting all data and programs and tying up all processor time) or a hardware kill. The latter was potentially the most devastating, and often involved taking control of a system’s real world presence—weapons, satellites, power sources—and using them to cause the physical destruction of their own and/or other systems. (return)
What energy sources existed on these worlds? Whilst on worlds with native life they would have had coal, oil, and gas the fact is that the vast majority of the Imperium’s worlds, and practically 100% of its ‘settlements’ had no such natural power sources and were dependent on nuclear or solar power. These were in turn totally dependent on control systems, which made ideal targets for software or hardware kills. The effects of deliberate meltdown, or of SPSS transmission beams being used as weapons, or the SPSS themselves being hurled from orbit do not bear thinking about, and the remains are not a pretty sight even today. On some worlds alternate power sources existed, but again they were usually dependent on computerised control systems. For instance wet worlds usually had hydro-electric stations, and those with large moons had tidal power. Many worlds with standard or dense atmospheres had wind farms. Worlds with a high vulcanisation indexes often had geothermal stations.
Even if the power sources survived the virus attack the distribution network was still at risk and unlikely to survive the onslaught intact. Either way the loss of power crippled almost any world of TL8 or greater. The loss of power sources was the most likely cause of eventual failure of non-terran standard worlds. (return)
Survival in Space
If surviving dirtside was tough, think about what was happening in interstellar space:
- Ships in jump:
- Immune from the Virus, a ship was safe until it emerged from jump. Then if the Virus was active in system it was probably be infected mere seconds after its first transponder transmission. Then, stuck out at a 100 diameter jump point it had little chance of making it to safety and few could drop dirtside with no computer control of the M-drive. In these cases alternative means of transport became necessary, using ships boats or even survival globes or re-entry shields to make the journey to safety. The general rule was that the simpler the craft the more chances there were of it operating. Either way most craft survived at most 90 days before victuals and power gave out.
- Space stations:
- The biggest graveyards were the space stations. Even the artificial habitats, with their dependence on computer-regulated lighting, recycling and shielding were not immune. A mass evacuation program was started using the few small craft that had escaped the Virus, or else habitants moved into the docked craft where there was more scope for jury-rigging survival systems, although conditions on them proved little better. The sad fact is that an estimated 90% of all people in space at the time of a Virus strike perished within 3 months, with 70% dying in the first 72 hours. (return)